Clergy Corner, May 11, 2018

Clergy Corner, May 11, 2018

URBANA -- David Zola wears many hats in his service to the community.

University of Illinois students know him as a clinical professor of educational psychology who has helped thousands of people earn their degrees.

The people of St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Urbana know him as a permanent deacon who helps provide the sacraments and inspiration to people of faith.

And at home, he is the loving husband to Unit 4 School Superintendent Susan Zola.

But if you ask him, Zola, 71, will probably tell you he is most proud of his role as a spiritual leader to Urbana's Catholic community.

"For me, it all started when I was 10 years old in Lenox, Massachusetts, and I became an altar boy," Zola said. "I fell in love with it."

When Zola arrived in Champaign-Urbana in 1978 to become an assistant research professor at the UI, he also joined St. Patrick's Parish.

A few years later, Zola has become the director of St. Pat's religious education program.

"I was interested in helping the youth in their development of their faith," he said.

As Zola recruited volunteers to teach some of the classes, he met a young woman named Susan Staats.

"She was a first-grade teacher at Thomas Paine, and said she could do that," he said. "I recruited her as part of our high school team, and I knew she was special from the start. I asked her to be my wife, and we got married in 1989."

They have three children: Sarah, a doctoral student at Roosevelt University; Anne, a junior at Northwestern; and Luke, who is deaf and lives in a group home for adults in Flossmoor.

After the Catholic Church following Vatican II re-established the role of permanent deacons as a ministry available for married men, the former altar boy felt inspired to serve in this new role.

In the Catholic Church, a permanent deacon is a person ordained for a life service to the word of God, the sacraments of the church and a life of charity.

Zola said his training was a five-year program that required the participation of both him and Susan.

"For five years, Susan and I would go to Peoria once a month for my classes to become a deacon," he said. "Our diocese runs a formation program involving couples."

Zola says one of the most emotional moments of his life took place in May 2012, when Bishop Daniel Jenky laid his hands on Zola's head to ordain him a deacon. He thought about Jesus laying his hands on the apostles, who started an uninterrupted series of hand layings all the way to Zola's own head.

"It was mind-blowing, because you have the infusion of the Holy Spirit," he said. "So, for me, when the bishop laid his hands on me, it was really Jesus Christ."

As deacon, Zola is responsible for reading the Gospel and distributing the chalice each Sunday, teaching a class leading to baptism and performing baptisms.

"In the church I grew up in, only priests and bishops could baptize," Zola said. "Today, deacons can also help with the sacraments."

So far, Zola has baptized 200 people.

"I just did one today," he said. "I placed my hand on a child and said, 'Michael, I claim you for Christ.' My heart just goes crazy."

As the father of a deaf child, Zola specializes in a ministry for people with special needs at St. Pat's.

"I look for opportunities to do charity," he said. "The last six years has been absolutely wonderful, serving this parish."